The Bellbottom Incident

Third and final volume in the Incident Series, The Bellbottom Incident by Neve Maslakovic ties things up nicely. Along the way, it gives us a higher proportion of adventure to buildup than the first two. That is, most of the book is a chase to the recent past. This was set up at the end of the second book when a time-orphaned teenager disappears to the past. The wrong past, as it turns out, since she only gets as far as 1976.

This is a great look at the rules of time travel as the author has imagined them, their implications in recent time versus far time, and at the role of human nature.

It is worth noting that these three books are more like one story in three volumes. You could read the first and walk away, but really, if you read more than that, you gotta read all three.

One of the locations in 1976 is the Fort Myers, Florida area. This tickled me, as I lived there for about six weeks at the beginning of 1986. If six weeks is long enough to describe as “lived there.” I took a semester off and stayed with a friend, his first wife and her daughter. Had he not decided they had had enough of Florida, the lack of decent jobs and people they could relate to, I would presumably have been there for at least a few months. I lived a stone’s throw from the Edison Mall and his summer home. I’ve been on the Sanibel Causeway, and even seen what it’s like in dense fog. I kind of liked the area, enough that I thought about trying to stay on my own when my friend moved back north. I just couldn’t see how I could swing it, and how I could do that and also complete college.

Personal history aside, I loved this book, and the set of them it completed. It was worth the $4.99, especially given that it was well edited. It’s not that it leaves absolutely nothing to your imagination, but it ends things satisfyingly, and without any obvious temptation for future books in the same fictional universe. Not that it couldn’t happen.

The Runestone Incident

The Runestone Incident is the second in the Incident Series by Neve Maslakovic. The series appears to be destined to be three and done, apart from a brief prequel that I have no plans to read.

This is a fairly direct sequel to the first, in that it helps to be aware what happened, and to know that you liked the concept and direction of these stories. In the background of all of them lurks a slow moving romance.

At the same time, the historical focus is completely different. Julia Olsen remains the delightful point of view character. The university in Minnesota, where she works, remains the central setting. The university’s time machine, used for a wide range of historical research, remains central to the plot and the inevitable hijinks.

This time it’s the Kensington Runestone, its authenticity and whether Scandanavians made it that far into the future United States during the fourteenth century. There are history lessons embedded in the fiction that I largely knew already. There is also authorial license with details we cannot know beyond a doubt happened one way or another. It is fiction, after all.

Once again, putting it down was a challenge. Since I reviewed the first book shortly after finishing it, and am doing the same with this one, you can see how closely this post follows that one. I blew through it avidly.

It is possible that you may find the build slow and have less patience for the preliminaries than I did. The serious action starts well into the book. Then again, if by serious action you think of it as climactic action, that makes sense. While these are science fiction, they are also a form of mystery. The build fits that.

Recommended, in case that wasn’t clear. I bought this Kindle edition on sale for $1.99. It is normally $4.99, the top of my preferred price range. I did pay full price for the third installment after finishing the first, and the second installment did nothing to make me regret that. I plan to read that next, despite a substantial queue of other options. Stay tuned.

The Wheel of Time Companion

This is not a “frugal” review, and is not really a review. More of a concurrence with another’s review of The Wheel of Time Companion. At $21.99 (I paid a couple bucks less, at the final pre-order price to get it on the release date), it is not a cheap read, though for a hardcover of its size it’s not so bad. The thing is, it’s a combined collectible and reference for the avid fan, rather than something with inherent story value. Guess I should add a category for reference works here.

“It’s a dictionary” was exactly my first reaction. There are some cool entires. I was tickled by the entry for Bela, and with some of the clarified details on characters. However, as the linked review notes, it is little more than what we either know from reading the series, or could glean from the glossaries that appeared in the series (or could find in a wiki). I, too, have found things that could have been elaborated on were not. Things that could have been organized for ease of reference or comparison were not. I can’t remember what it was, but I found at least one thing I tried to look up was completely absent.

I was intensely glad I did not buy it in Kindle format, but as a collectible, I would never have done that. It would be ridiculous to peruse – and it is for perusing, not flat out reading – in electronic format with no appropriate aid to navigation.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the wonderful art by Ariel Burgess not being in color. I’d already seen much of it elsewhere and was a big fan, looking forward to seeing it in the book. I would also have loved improved maps, rather than reprints from the books, albeit all in one volume.

I don’t really regret the purchase. I would have done so even had I know the book was not to be what I had imagined. I am that much a fan of The Wheel of Time. I am enjoying having it sitting by my chair and picking it up periodically to thumb through or to look up items it occurs to me to, well, see if they did a decent job on, at this point.

But I still find it hard to believe that something years in the making, meant to be the crowning glory, was as ill-considered as it seems to have been. It makes no sense. Clearly plenty of effort went into it. And sure, it is a way to rake in more money for the estate and publisher, and a way to throw some public glory as well as additional work to Robert Jordan’s assistants. It’s just… it could have been amazing. It’s not.

The Far Time Incident

The Far Time Incident is the first in a three book Incident Series by Neve Maslakovic. I went into it skeptical, based on the description, but I do have a weakness for Vesuvius and Pompeii, and the price was discounted from the usual $3.99. How I liked it (and the first 16% of the second in the series, also bought at the $1.99 discount) can be extrapolated by my just having discovered that there is a third and final book in the series and bought it on the spot for the full $4.99. That’s the most I normally prefer to pay for Kindle books. I paid that despite knowing the length is relatively short, and despite having a pile of other books available to read.

Julia Olsen, assistant to the science dean at a fictional university, is a delightful, relatable point of view character. In an academic world, she is not one of the academics. While helping to manage the time travel roster, she has never gone for a look at the past herself.

When a professor disappears on an unscheduled trip back in time, destination unknown, Julia assists the campus police chief in investigating what might have happened, and whether there was foul play. This leads to Pompeii, pre-eruption. Hijinks ensue.

This was an excellent read, with unexpected twists. I’m surprised that the average stars from Amazon reviews falls below four, rather than being four and a fraction. I didn’t peruse the reviews to see what the detractors had to say. Still, for it to have almost four, most people like it, and the number of reviews is high enough that the average isn’t skewed as it can be on a newer release.

I did not notice any editing problems, so you won’t find yourself distracted by that while reading.

California Dreaming

I finished this yesterday, but didn’t want to write and post the review the same day as Aftermath. This time James Philip brings us California Dreaming (Timeline 10/27/62 – USA), the second in his alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis gone hot from the perspective of the United States. The fantastic original series is from a British perspective.

The two series naturally interact, since these are the same events seen from different sides of the pond, through mostly different, if sometimes related, eyes. Coincidence stretches almost to the breaking point in the telling, but that can be the way of coincidence, so it’s not a real complaint.

Something sinister is happening behind the scenes. My personal theory is that the only reason for the October War in the first place was forces that didn’t exist or didn’t have their way in our own timeline. I could be wrong. Part of the beauty of the combined series it that there is such room to speculate and wonder. Having read the other series to date, I found myself anticipating larger events that would affect this (mostly) new set of characters. The author doesn’t disappoint, leaving things tantalizingly up in the air so we can’t wait for the next installment.

Something is rotten in America. Given that Americans were caught off guard by this, no wonder it was utterly baffling internationally.

The prices of $3.99 is a bargain for such an exceptional work. I had ordered in advance, so I had it in hand, virtually speaking, as soon as it released. Presumably the editing problems will be patched up in time, so you might see fewer or none. I’ve not seen as many errors in any of his other books. Mostly it’s wrong spellings, extra or missing words, as when you start to phrase a sentence one way and then change it, but leave a missing or dangling word. I’ve done the same many times. Too bad I can’t (as far as I know) flag a needed edit right from the Kindle.

That said, I would buy the entire rest of both sets on the spot, right now, if they were done, and read nothing but them until the conclusion. If there is a conclusion, per se, given that there’s an entire new timeline to play in, and endless possible repercussions. I would buy them in paperback, if they were available no other way. Your mileage may vary, but they are one of the best things I’ve read.

Aftermath

This review of Aftermath (Timeline 10/27/62 – USA) is sort of odd to write, given that I am waiting to reread the original series of Timeline 10/27/62 before reviewing those, which arguably should be read, at least the first one or two, first. The original set, starting with Operation Anadyr, have a British perspective. The Brits are in a hard way after nuclear cataclysm, complicated by the United States seemingly going mad.

All of these book are brilliantly written by James Philip. Aftermath was $2.99 and is just a bit longer than the abbrieviated Operation Anadyr, designed to get you hooked at 99¢.

Aftermath sets you up with various characters, some with familiar surnames if you’ve read the other series, and the events of the ever so brief October War from their perspectives. Where were you when the Cuban Missile Crisis went off the rails? It’s more intriguing, having read the other series, but probably not vital. We start to learn where the US was hit and how the personal and political might go down.

This book had more need for editing than I recall in the other series, if much less than the next one in the USA series. The advantage of electronic books is the ability to fix errors as readers find them. My inner editor sees every one of them, but I’ve gotten over being stopped cold when that happens. It helps that it’s hard to put down. The next one gets even more so, as I’m sure I’ll tell you again once I have finished it.

The Dreams of a Dying God

I got The Dreams of a Dying God (The Godlanders War Book 1) by Aaron Pogue on a special for $1.99. Based on nothing but the description, I might never have paid the normal price of $4.99. As it turns out, the other two books in the (I presume) trilogy are already out. That’s good, in that I am intrigued. That’s bad, in that I am not sure I am intrigued enough to pay $4.99 each for them. I have months of reading and rereading (to do justice in reviewing stuff I read before I launched this place) I can do before spending another dime on books. Not that I won’t. It’s a weakness. Especially when it seems to be a bargain.

When it came time to start this book, the early part of it had me going back to the description to remind myself what it was about and why a pirate was in the sands of what we might call North Africa, rescuing a slave and conducting a dig for a lost city.

Once it gets going, though, it is completely different from anything I have read. What is real? How does a god create or change reality? How does a god defend himself? How do myths and legends come about? How does reality in the past differ from how we understand it in the present?

I got a sense of quantum many worlds out of this book. That would explain the obvious match for our own world, but with different names, like Hurope. I thought the druids were a great touch. Something like them could make a fascinating story in its own right.

The more I reflect back over it, the more excited I am to read the sequels. I still think they are overpriced – I’d rather they be a buck or two lower – but at least they aren’t current paperback prices.

When I started this place, I had meant to include commentary in my reviews regarding the editing. Were their a lot of corrections needed? What made me think of it is the book I am currently reading, a favorite series, in which I am seeing regular errors. For instance, using the word raise in two different places when raze is the correct word. My inner editor cringes on hitting something like that. The Dreams of a Dying Good did not suffer from editing problems. It was solid.

Bottom line, this was a good book, a rather different fantasy, and you might enjoy it as much as I did. The discounted price I paid was a huge bargain. I’d rather not spend full price, but I lean toward it being worth rather than not worth it.

A last thought: The sequels intrigue me because I can’t begin to fathom what will take place in them. It is not that everything is neatly tied up at the end of this first book, but enough questions are answered to keep me from rushing into the next one because it’s a cliffhanger. I like that. Both the sense of relative completeness and the lack of predictability about where the story will take us subsequently.

The Fire Seekers

The Fire Seekers (The Babel Trilogy Book 1) is a hard-to-classify book by Richard Farr. I know I say this too often, but I found it hard to put down. I actually finished the last 20% of it after waking and being unable to fall back to sleep in the wee hours this morning.

You could call it science fiction. You could say it’s young adult, but it’s not really, apart from overlap. That is, readers in the YA market might also enjoy it, and appreciate the relative youth of the main character and his friends. Most of us, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to relate to his extraordinary childhood, background, and, overt only as a plot factor at a couple of key points, wealth. More than a couple plot points, if you count some of what the ordinary-seeming protagonist knows as a result of his background. It’s definitely loaded with action, suspense, and a mystery that remains largely unsettled in the satisfying yet disturbing conclusion.

Sadly, the next book in the trilogy has not yet been published, or it would be the book I jumped into next. Which tells you just how gripping I found it. It reads a little like The Da Vinci Code, or Raiders of the Lost Ark if you imagine that as a book.

There is history, archaeology, language, mythology and religion, with accuracy beyond the call of frenetic fiction. The book really doesn’t pick on a specific religion so much as examining the history and basis of religions. Much of the plot revolves around a new religion, or perhaps anti-religion, having been founded and grown vast in record time. But why? To what end? Who are the bad guys?

Highly recommended. On Amazon, it doesn’t even have a full four stars average from reader feedback. I’m surprised. I’d expect enough five star ratings to make it four and a fraction. (No book or product is for everyone. It seems suspicious when something with more than its first few reviews has a solid five.) Oh well. I recommend it. If you like this sort of action story that falls somewhere into speculative fiction.

The Arch of Avooblis

The Arch of Avooblis (The Adventurers’ Academy Book 1) is a young adult/older children’s book by Charles Streams. I was dubious at first and at times, but overall it was an enjoyable if basic read. It is bound to make you think of Harry Potter at times, if only due to the setting and age of the main point of view character.

Dagdron is a bit of an anti-hero and can be downright unlikable at times. He reminds me somewhat of a late friend I first met at the age of 14. The academy teaches three sets of adventurer types/skills: Warriors, Enchanters, and Rogues. Our hero is a rogue, already trained from a young age by his father. Where Harry embraced Hogwarts eagerly, Dagdron goes off to school reluctantly at best. Worse, he is stuck with an effusive student warrior roommate.

I enjoyed this enough to plan to buy the second and third in the trilogy, which are bargain priced, but not free as this was. There’s no downside at all to checking it out as a free Kindle download. I also expect my eleven year old Harry Potter fanatic to enjoy it, when and if I can get her to read it.

Can a book with an unpleasant main character be worth reading, or even great? It’s been several years, but my adult reread of the Tripods Trilogy made me realize what a twerp the main character in that series was. Yet it remains a classic. YMMV.

I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, let alone love it, or even that your tween or teen will like it. It’s not a book for a rave recommendation. It is rather different, and might be worth a look.

The Time Bridge at Orion

Frugal? It’s 99¢, but it’s also a short 55 pages/17,500 words, albeit packed with action. The Time Bridge at Orion is a sequel to One Thousand Years, also by Randolph Beck. It picks up after the events of the original book. In a way, it’s larger than its length, because setup is no longer required.

We learn more about the advanced aliens, who are, it seems, having a civil war. This makes for a dynamic three-way encounter at the point in space where the Nazi ship does not want to be seen jumping through time.

This was gripping. It took little time to read, its length compounded by the difficulty in putting it down. I’ve paid the same for far shorter works, so I can’t complain. I might have preferred a book-length sequel all at once for 3-4 times the price, but this left me more satisfied than I would have been had I been required to wait longer and remained at the previous stopping point. Perhaps there is something to say for what amounts to serialization.

You must read the first book before this, or else it will make no sense at all. So far, I recommend the whole series, unless the genre is not your thing.